As a football fan, there’s a certain romanticism to Ajax that’s hard to resist. To think of Ajax is to think of Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, total football, and of course that iconic kit. Ooh, the kit. Sure, it’s lost the striking simplicity it had in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but even in cynical old sponsor-laden 2019, it remains incredibly easy on the eye. That iconic crest. That thick red panel down the middle of the shirt. Those white shirts and socks. Guys: I’m salivating.
I’d seen Ajax play once before, in a 2003 Champions League game against AC Milan at the San Siro. Now, at last, on a drop-dead-bollock-cold Saturday night in February, it was finally time to see them on their own home patch.
Having spent the afternoon at another local match – ASV De Dijk’s 5-1 hammering from Ermelo – we sped across Amsterdam in a taxi, just in time to scoff possibly the best football burger I’ve ever had, from a stall outside the stadium. It came with a sweet peanutty sauce slopped all over it, which I’m deeply unhappy about not catching the name of. (Reader: if you know what that sauce is, please @ me.)
Inside, the Johan Cruyff Arena is an impressive place. Our seats, high up in one of the corners, offered a perfect view of the match, and after a surprisingly sedate start the atmosphere soon picked up (albeit mainly from behind the goal at the far end). It could be said that, for a club so spoiled by success over the generations, the locals here haven’t had a huge amount to get excited about during the last few years, with four successive failures to win the Eredivisie accompanied by regular struggles to make an impact in Europe (though there was, in fairness, a Europa League Final appearance in 2017). That couldn’t be said of this season, though. The Ajax side on display here was a young and exciting one, and though we didn’t know it at the time, they’d go on to win the Dutch title and reach the Champions League semis.
In front of an almost-capacity crowd, the hosts walloped their visitors from Venlo, banging in six goals with no reply. When you’re sitting in a stadium named after one of the greatest footballers of all time, who famously strutted his stuff here, it’s hard not to compare the current bunch with the all-conquering Ajax of old, and inevitably there will only be one winner. But maybe, just maybe, what we might have been witnessing here were the early stages of a new Ajax golden era.
Johan Cruyff Arena
AFC Ajax 6 VVV-Venlo 0
Saturday 2 February 2019